It is safe to say Michal Kwiatkowski is the expert when it comes to winning the Strade Bianche. The Pole – still only 27 years of age – is the only rider in the peloton to win the race twice. Other names still racing who took the honours in Tuscany are Aleksandr Kolobnev (2007, inaugural edition), Philippe Gilbert (2011), Moreno Moser (2013) and Zdenek Stybar (2015). Kwiatkowski did win the race in 2014 and 2017. With the exception of Kolobnev and the retired Cancellara, who won three times, all former winners line up at the start in Siena.
The field is impressive anyway. Alejandro Valverde is one of many major contenders. He finished on the podium of Strade Bianche twice, in 2014 and 2015, and is – once again – in great shape this early in the season. He won the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and the Abu Dhabi Tour. Title defender Kwiatkowski is also in a winning mood, as he pocketed the GC at the Volta ao Algarve two weeks ago. A setback for Valverde was having stomach problems last week.
The Strade Bianche is famous for its dirt roads, often on sharp climbs. In 2018, the riders face eleven ‘sterrati’, which amounts to 63 kilometres on unpaved roads. The race totals 184 kilometers and the finale in Siena is a steep cobbled climb with ramps up to 16%.
The race is a war of attrition and it is wearing any rider out. Last year Michal Kwiatkowski, Greg Van Avermaet, Tim Wellens, Zdenek Stybar, Tom Dumoulin, Luke Durbridge and Christopher Juul-Jensen were the last remaining riders after the last gravel sector. Kwiatkowski attacked with 16 kilometres to go and initially no one responded. Then Van Avermaet, Wellens and Stybar tried to chase the former world Champion down, but to no avail.
Favourites 2018 Strade Bianche
***** Michal Kwiatkowski, Peter Sagan, Zdenek Stybar
**** Greg Van Avermaet, Gianni Moscon, Alejandro Valverde
*** Tom Dumoulin, Sep Vanmarcke, Philippe Gilbert
** Jasper Stuyven, Moreno Moser, Tiesj Benoot, Wout van Aert
* Vincenzo Nibali, Primoz Roglic, Christopher Juul-Jensen, Luke Durbridge